Governor’s Budget: Looking at adding to Justice Reinvestment

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BISMARCK, N.D. - A recent department of corrections report said North Dakota had the nation's fastest growing prison population. Gov. Doug Burgum signed a justice reinvestment bill into law in April 2017 in an effort to treat some criminals instead of incarcerating them over and over. His budget address Wednesday proposed adding more money to further reduce the numbers.

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The average daily population at the state prison system has dropped by 148 people in 18 months. Between the governor and legislature, expanding behavioral health services, decriminalizing marijuana and a process to expungement are all on the table.

"North Dakota had been one of the fastest growing states in terms of prison population. Now our population has probably decreased probably 8-percent over that time,” said Leann Bertsch, director at the Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

To keep getting people out of incarceration, the message is spending money in law enforcement, treatment and prevention, slamming the door shut on repeat offenders.

"It's time to really ensure that our statutes actually reflect what happens to people,” said Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

Stenehjem and the Department of Corrections say taking a look decriminalizing marijuana would be a good start.

"The last 20 and 30 years in our country, you can see what happens to overcriminalizing drugs hasn't decreased the problems. All it has done is filled up prisons and probably destroyed a lot of families, so I think there's some good efforts with that as well,” said Bertsch.

As for treatment and preventions, Stenehjem says the pharmaceutical companies should pay to repair the damage they've caused.

"That will bring in a source of funds that I think ought to be devoted to more treatment options,” said Stenehjem.

North Dakota is one of eleven states suing Purdue Pharmaceutical over the opioid crisis. Stenehjem says the companies have made billions from misrepresenting their products